Saturday, June 13, 2009

Proposing A Change For Future Romantic Comedies…

I still find it fascinating that we are entering the back stretch of 2009, and today's chick flicks, even those that call themselves "cynical," still give off the image that if a woman is fiercely successful in business, it is because she has failed at relationships for the past few years-- to the point where she admittedly "has become quite comfortable" and finds it "easier" to just be on her own. Take the most recent perpetuate of this theory, The Proposal, as your example.

Sandra Bullock's Margaret Tate is a high-powered editor at a New York literary agency who runs a ship as tight as her ponytail. She is the "Miranda Priestly" of her world; other members of her agency literally scurry out of her way as she saunters down the hall, her head literally stuck in her Blackberry. In fact, her assistant, Ryan Reynolds' Andrew Paxton, gives the rest of those on the floor the courtesy of a "heads up" whenever she is in the vicinity, with such charming company-wide instant messages as "The witch is on her broom" and simply "It's here." She speaks in short staccato, with a tone as firm as her legs must be after incessantly wearing those four-inch spiky pumps. Bottom line is: she means business, even when she is discussing wedding arrangements.

It is no secret that her wedding is a sham-- well, to the moviegoers, anyway, as long as they've seen any romantic comedy ever. Margaret is Canadian and facing deportation, so she blackmails Andrew, her eager assistant, into posing as her fiance. That's the kind of quirky gimmick these movies are made of! Throw in a wacky cast of supporting characters (Andrew's mom and ninety year old "Gammy") and an even more oddball setting (Alaska! And not the capital either but some tiny town that one needs to take a special charter plane and boat to reach), and you quickly get a fish out of water comedy that threatens to soften even the hardest ball-buster in business (which Margaret certainly is!).

Anne Fletcher never claimed to be reinventing the wheel with The Proposal, her third feature as director. But she seems to consider herself a feminist, and though I never saw Step Up, I would have to agree 27 Dresses supports such a claim. In The Proposal, there are no dippy, dew-eyed girls so smitten with the idea of love and a big fat ring that they ignore blindingly obvious flaws in the guys in their lives. I admit that for a minute after seeing the preview, I worried-- not necessarily that Margaret would turn into one after a few short days with Andrew in his hometown (you know, because Alaska is cold and therefore can't melt her own icily-guarded heart), but that Andrew himself would. It might be a step in the right direction for the female/male dynamic in such films but such a "twist" wouldn't do much for the genre or film in general!
Although, I admit, I totally
understand falling for that!


No, I was instead worried that Margaret would end up thinking she had to give up her crazy hours and insane client-wrangling in order to be with this guy who she was clearly seeing had much more down-to-Earth roots. Romantic comedies rarely spend time focusing on balance, and that is why so many young girls (and even grown women!) get the wrong impression about how to "have it all." The truth is, if you are such a work-a-holic that you're in your office at dawn every morning and don't leave until dark, taking coffee and lunch breaks only to schmooze potential clients, then there is no way the perfect guy can ever sweep you off your feet-- regardless of what past movies may have told you. Hell, even the completely wrong guy can't find you in your fortress of paperwork and emails. If you stop looking altogether, it doesn't matter what kind of signals you send out ("I'm too busy/important for you" or otherwise) because you're not at the right places to even send them. Unless you have a thing for janitors or FedEx guys (and there's nothing wrong with it if you do; it worked for Paulette in Legally Blonde!), you will never get a chance to meet anyone.

So I guess it makes sense that in the right light (which in this case just happened to be the perpetual six month sunlight of Alaska), that bossy businesswoman would come around to her hunky (really too old to still be an) assistant. And it is refreshing that when she finally does, it is not in the stereotypical cathartic way but in a slightly unaware, very much emotionally stunted one that would befit a woman who has focused so long and hard on making deals that that is all she knows. It is a step in the right direction for the genre, as far as this jaded filmgoer is concerned; however, the question is still begged as to how when the "vacation high" wears off, such a woman could even attempt to balance a new relationship with her still just as intense as ever job? I challenge the writers, producers, and directors of this genre to step outside the formula box and challenge themselves (and their audiences) with such a difference-- because it would certainly be an important lesson for us all.

I propose (heh, get it??) that the next such film starts with the big life-changing revelation for once-- instead of the audience paying thirteen-fifty for an anticlimactic third act-- and then goes on to show the story of just how it affects the character when she (or he-- or both) is forced to bend and compromise and change. Maybe I'll start writing that. I am about to have a lot of time on my hands, after all...

By the way, when did Betty White become such a gay icon???

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